Everyone take down dog

Down dog the wonder pose.  So many uses, so many variations, so many times in a class to get familiar, it should be a piece of cake to teach or do I mean learn?

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

Down dog is such a great pose that has so many benefits not just for the student but for the teacher too.  Time to take a closer look at down dog I think. After practicing Yoga for a while we tend to forget how hard this pose was at the beginning.

Down dog the beginning. Sweat is dripping from my forehead as the blood vessels in my  bald head start to expand to bursting point, the strain on the shoulders painful, “How much longer do I have to keep my butt in air?” heart is pounding, every muscle already complaining. This could get messy. “Can we take child’s pose now, please?” It’s at this point that my first teacher utters the soul destroying words “In Yoga we use down dog as our rest pose ”.

How can something so simple require so much effort?

Over time, of course, it becomes second nature to get into down dog and after an intensive warm up sequence for 20 minutes down dog does indeed becomes a rest post, but right now….

I hate down dog.

Down dog the messenger.

It’s a new class, one I have not taught before. What levels and abilities do these Yogis have? “Everyone take down dog.”  There, all is revealed, a quick glance around the room and it pretty clear where people are with their practice.

I love down dog

Down dog the basics. Teaching down dog should be easy right?  It’s all about a straight back and stretching those hamstrings, eventually to straight. “Stretch back in a long extended child’s pose, now curl your toes under and gradually start to straighten your knees and push up  to ….. possibly your first down dog of the day.” These are familiar words in my beginner classes.  I glance around the room. Straight legs and curved backs everywhere, it’s more like a school of dolphin. “everyone bend your knees and take you chest back towards your thighs”……  “No, really, bend your knees, chest towards thighs.”  No one can hear me. There is a fierce determination around the room to keep those legs straight at all costs.  “You don’t have to have straight legs. It’s more important to have a flat back. The legs will straighten over time.”  I suggest hopefully. The curse of the English accent strikes again? Apparently no one can hear a word I am saying.

I try down doggn’ next to them to show them. “See it’s not shoulders over the wrists, bend your knees like this and take you chest back to the thighs.  That’s it perfect”  As I turn my back and walk away, like a coiled spring,  the pose rebounds into the familiar arch.

Next class during the warm up I offer an adjustment. Gentle pressure to the sacrum to coax the shape I am looking for.  “Bend your knees a little, take your chest back to your thighs”. The knees bend and stay bent.  The back is looking straighter though. “nice job, that looking good.”  I turn my back.  Boing!

I hate down dog

Down dog to the rescue. Down dog is of course the teacher’s friend. Student needs special attention in a pose. “Everyone take down dog”.  Student feels faint and falls to the floor. “Everyone take down dog”.  Can’t remember where I was going with this sequence, what comes next? “Umm everyone take down dog.”

Of course it’s the ideal pose for transitioning anywhere else too.  Bend you knees and drop into child’s pose. Walk the hands back to forward fold.  Spring up into handstand 🙂 well may be one day. And of course it’s the ideal place to recover the breath during those fast warm up sun salutations.

I love down dog

Down dog the inversion. Any time your head is lower that your heart it counts as an inversion. So down dog works as the inversion if there is not time or the mood is not right for handstand or some other traditional inversion.

I love down dog.

Details detail details.  Iyengar classes will show you the seemingly never ending list of subtle adjustments that you can make to perfect your down dog, but what a lot of details to remember.

  • Spread your fingers wide
  • Middle fingers pointing forward, thumbs pointing towards each other
  • Weight in all 10 fingers, but more on the forefinger and thumb
  • Rotate your arms outwards so the eyes of the elbow joint face each other
  • Relax the head
  • Flat back, did I mention that already? Flat back
  • Work towards straightening the legs
  • Reach back with the heels
  • Pull up on the knee caps
  • If the soles of the feet are on the ground try picking up your toes.
  • Align the heels behind the ankle so you can’t see them
  • Slightly raise the inner heel and find the arches in your feet
  • Push the mat away with your hands bringing your chest closer to your knees.
  • Eventually bring your head to the ground or perhaps to a block
  • Breathe
  • Moola bandha, uddiyana bandha
  • …..

Did I mention this was a rest pose?

Down dog adustment.   Then of course there are all of the adjustments once the basic dog is in place.

  • Hand on the sacrum
  • Two hands around the thighs outside
  • Crosses hands inside the thighs, careful men.
  • Rotating  the shoulders out
  • Pressing down finger and thumb
  • Raising the ankles
  • Down dog with block
  • Strap around the shoulders like some kind of parachute
  • etc etc

Down dog variations.   Were not done yet, there are all of the variations.

This is a fire hydrant

This is a fire hydrant

  • Twisted down dog.  Reach back with right hand for left ankle and look under left armpit
  • One handed down dog. The other arm along side the body.
  • No handed down dog.  Both hands on the along side the body
  • Down dog splits.
  • Turbo dog
  • Puppy pose
  • No palms on the floor
  • Dog peeing.  Say what? Excuse me, in the US this is know as “Fire hydrant” pose. Sorry there are no fire hydrants where I come from. Beside this pose looks nothing like a fire hydrant. Every other pose in yoga at least looks a little bit like it’s name.

I was in a workshop this weekend and the instructor Andrey Lappa kept telling us how we should be more flexible, more like animals (not fire hydrants).

Maybe he is right 🙂  Everyone take down dog.  Perfect!

Everyone take down dog

Everyone take down dog

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2 Responses to “Everyone take down dog”

  1. This was a good one! I especially relate to the teaching it section, nobody believes me when I say it’s all about a nice, long back. You basically described a daily experience in one of my classes!

  2. This is great!! I was wondering how I’d go about teaching down dog…
    Thanks!

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